Christmas is about families and love. Christmas is also about memories and hope. This is a story about Thelma and Marie and it's a story about Christmas, families, hope and love.
Thelma Rasmussen is 97 years old, born in 1905 and her younger sister Marie Atwood is 90, born in 1912. They were the second and fifth daughers born to James and Jane Strokes Oveson of Elmo. There were also other sisters and two little brothers.
Thelma has spent her entire 97 years in Emery and Carbon counties, while sister Marie grew up near Elmo and moved to Carbon County after her marriage. But the two sisters have always been close and loved each other very much. And today, all these years later, their home is the Turnquist Retreat, and their rooms facing the east, are side by side.
As I followed the sisters down the hall, both under five feet tall, both with nice Christmas sweaters, both shuffled along in their walkers to their tiny quarters, I couldn't help think that this is the true meaning of Christmas. Before they started talking I knew I was in for a treat because they carried with them an air of elegance and humility and the true Christmas spirit.
Thelma has been a resident of the center for six years and Marie has been there for four years and together they celebrate each day and both look forward to another holiday season.
From Thelma's room you can look over the wash and see the remains of her family's homestead, the farm her father and mother built from scratch on the flat just south of Elmo. Her parents met in Sunnyside around the turn of the century. Jane was waiting tables while James was looking for work with his brother. His brother got a job in the mines and James went to work as a sheepherder on the mountain. They married and moved to Elmo where they broke ground on their 180 acres. Thelma talked about her father renting a horse to pull up the sage brush and create his farm. There the Ovesons raised their seven children farming and ranching.
Christmas has always been a big holiday for the Oveson children, although presents or gifts weren't part of the celebration. "I remember decorating a cedar tree every year that dad would bring in from the mountains when he got wood," recalls Thelma.
The women talked about making their own decorations by gluing papers together and making a chain for the tree. Thelma and Marie's eyes lit up when they talked about dancing and singing around the tree. "One year mother had to go to her family at Coalville and dad and us kids stayed home for Christmas," said Marie, recalling, "I remember him dancing around and around the tree with us kids, all holding hands and singing Christmas carols."
Thelma talked about helping her mother with the baking, remembering the cookies and breads and donuts they made for the holiday season.
The two older Oveson children, Edith and Thelma, attended school at George Herman Ovett's grainery and Thelma piped up that her first teacher was Roda Webber.
But when they were asked about gifts, Marie remembers the early years when the kids got nothing. One year she got a doll with painted hair. But her older sister, Edith got a doll with real hair. "I made such a fuss out of not having hair on my doll that Edith finally gave me her doll," said Marie.
The Ovesons first lived in a log home with mud brought in from the area, while they were getting their farm going. Later as the children arrived, they added an adobe bedroom. Finally the girls remember getting lumber and building a kitchen which was added to the original log and adobe portions of the home.
Thelma stared off into a picture of her family when she recalled the round oak chief stove that sat in the middle of their new kitchen. "It was a real stove," she said. When their little brother was about five they got a new home and it was in this home that the baby brother, almost 10 years younger than Marie was born.
Thelma married at 19 and she and her husband, Lawrence Rasmussen had seven children as well. After their marriage Thelma and Lawrence lived in Columbia in a tent for four years up in Sunnyside. "There our two oldest children were born," recalls Thelma. "But we always had a tree at Christmas and I remember us decorating the tent during the holidays." Later the Rasmussens moved to Kenilworth.
Younger sister Marie also married a coal miner at 19, some five years later. They were married at Judge Hamond's courthouse and her husband's dad and stepmother stood up for them when they married back in the 1931. They first lived in Consumers and later bought a farm in Elmo on land that her father gave them.
The Atwoods had two children. Marie remembers her first Christmas in a two-room shack up at Consumers. A neighbor brought a tree from an area up the mountain they called Beaver. Marie recalls, "We had no money for gifts and barely had enough to feed us, but we made decorations out of paper and enjoyed our first holiday together."
"I love the holidays," said Marie, "People are happier and friendlier, but I would like more snow." Thelma added that her childhood memories of dancing around the tree still stand out in her mind.
Owner of the Turnquist Retreat for the past 11 years, Colleen Wilcox talked about her aunts, Thelma and Marie. "They are so much fun but so different from each other," she said. Thelma is kinder and more patient and Marie is more demanding, but they look out for each other and when one is sick the other one is right there by her bedside.
At Thanksgiving Colleen recalls that they both had family invitations, but they wanted to stay and celebrate the holiday together.
It's like a fairy tale story, especially at Christmas, when two little gray haired ladies, both in their 90's get to live together again, only a few miles from where both were born. Shuffling in their walkers to either side of the Christmas tree, with smiles as big as their hearts, they smiled as the flash went off. Marie said, "should we say Merry Christmas now!"